THE art world has been shaken by the death of a "visionary" leader of the western desert art movement.
Makinti Napanangka, thought to be in her 80s, took up painting in her 70s yet went on to become one of the most recognised names in indigenous art. Her canvases fetched up to $72,000.
"It's a significant loss to Australian art," Hetti Perkins, the senior curator of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art at the Art Gallery of NSW, said yesterday, calling her a visionary.
Advertisement: Story continues below
"I think she will assume that legendary status like Emily Kngwarreye. She certainly deserves it."
Napanangka, of the Pintupi people, was at the forefront of a wave of female artists who became involved in the western desert art movement around the mid-1990s.
In 2008 she won the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Award, of which Perkins was a judge.
Her distinct canvases - often themed around the journeys of two women - had a celebratory, dynamic quality that was "so energetic", Ms Perkins said. "It's almost like they're channelling women's ceremony."
Napanangka was tiny physically but a powerhouse of a personality.
"She would be the first one at the art centre every morning, with a herd of all her dogs behind her, impatient to get on with the job … She even painted when she had very serious eye problems."
Napanangka's birth has been put at about 1922 or 1930, around the Lake Macdonald region bordering Western Australia and the Northern Territory, and she is thought to have died in Alice Springs. She had long worked with the collective Papunya Tula Artists in the town.
The manager of Aboriginal Art Galleries, Venita Poblocki, said Napanangka was hugely important not only as an artist but from an anthropological and ethnographic perspective.
"She's a highly collectable artist."
2011. "Western desert artist leaves behind record of women's ceremony". Sydney Morning Herald. Posted: January 13, 2011. Available online: http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/art-and-design/western-desert-artist-leaves-behind-record-of-womens-ceremony-20110112-19o7m.html